Scottish museum x-rays Van Gogh painting and finds undiscovered self-portrait behind it
The painting was donated to them in 1960 but they wouldn't discover until decades later that it was a two-for-one deal. How incredible.
Jaclyn Abergas

A secret self-portrait of influential artist, Vincent Van Gogh, has been discovered hidden behind one of his paintings.

It was routine work at the National Galleries of Scotland.

They were x-raying Van Gogh’s paintings as part of a cataloging practice and in preparation for the Royal Scottish Academy’s summer exhibition of French impressionism.

The X-ray process was done in a traditional darkroom and that’s when Lesley Stevenson, senior paintings conservator at the National Galleries of Scotland, saw the self-portrait.

It was hidden behind another Van Gogh painting from 1885.

“Head of a Peasant Woman.”

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YouTube - Inside Edition

During Van Gogh’s time, it was a common practice to reuse canvases, especially for poor painters like Van Gogh.

The painting was donated to them in 1960 by Alexander Maitland, a lawyer for Edinburgh.

A two-for-one deal

But they wouldn’t discover until decades later that they actually got a two-for-one deal with this painting.

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YouTube - Inside Edition

“Lo and behold! We don’t see much of the peasant woman, but what we have is the lead white, the much heavier pigment he used for his face, showing up after the X-ray goes through the cardboard,” Lesley Stevenson told The Guardian.

The x-ray revealed a bearded person with a hat and kerchief and an intense stare. Their left ear is also clearly intact.

This painting was clearly made before Van Gogh cut off his ear with a razor in 1888.

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YouTube - Inside Edition

This discovery was also momentous because it confirmed what they understood to be a pivotal moment in Van Gogh’s artistic development.

“This period when he began producing self-portraits was key in the development of his mature style, when he began experimenting with his own distinctive brush stroke. Van Gogh was a very independent thinker and he developed his radical new style so quickly,” Frances Fowle, senior curator for French art, explained.

This is such a rare moment for anyone in the art world.

No one has ever seen an undiscovered self-portrait, especially from one of the most important, influential, and popular artists in the world.

“The discovery of a new work is extraordinary,” Lesley Stevenson echoed. “Anything that gives us more information about the artist is a huge bonus, and just shows the benefit of technological analysis, that we can still find out new things.”

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YouTube - Inside Edition

Now that they’ve made the discovery of a never-before-seen Van Gogh painting, the challenge now is to separate the two paintings.

It won’t come easy.

It’s going to be difficult to separate the two paintings that have been glued together.

“It’s like stepping into the unknown,” Stevenson explained. “The challenge will be removing the adhesive from the oil paint layers, exploiting the difference in solubility of animal-based glue and oil-based paint.”

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YouTube - Inside Edition

Preservation of the two paintings needs to be maintained.

It cannot be rushed.

It cannot be forced. They also cannot know for sure the present condition now of the hidden painting, which has been affected by glue and cardboard.

Will they be able to do it? Time will tell.

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